In order to take advantage of its technological advance, the European wind energy industry is currently focused on developing its offshore wind potentials. Although challenging from a technical standpoint and even if it is not applicable to every EU country, this option enables developers to overcome most on-shore limitations hampering the land expansion of wind power. Since this industry has thrived on subsidized premium prices paid for wind electricity available in Europe, the costly offshore wind option tends to reinforce further the justifications for sustaining high prices.
|Consequently, the current research in wind turbine design tends to favor the development of larger machines aimed at reducing the costs of sea foundations for individual offshore units. As the power of a wind turbine is multiplied by four when its rotor diameter is doubled, added productivity can be obtained that way. Larger wind turbines also reduce maintenance operations as well. This is particularly important when considering the more difficult access to offshore wind turbines operating in corrosive environments.
E-112 Wind Turbine tower segment of 180 tons (Enercon)
Its important to mention that neither export of wind turbines nor their integration in developing countries will be achieved under these circumstances. While wind new installation rates are decreasing on the European continent, close to 40% of the world's 282 Gigawatt of wind power capacity were still located in the EU in 2012 (source: GWEC, WWEA).
The Sahara Trade Wind resource could provide an ideal development setting for the wind energy industry to expand most comprehensively into developing countries. Within Europe, the saturation of electric grids to further wind power developments are raising some levels of incertitude. Indeed, the consistent drop of wind turbine orders coming from Germany and Spain consecrated a shift into larger markets such as the USA (60 GW) and China (75 GW) for this industry. From the year 2010, China became the world leader in Wind Energy, installing more than 50 % of the world's market for several consecutive years.
Before expanding to the US and Asian markets, the wind power industrial growth that was initiated in Denmark, Germany and subsequently in Spain, demonstrated the importance that the trade wind resource can have in supporting an integrated economic development of North Africa. Within the Sahara desert coastline, large wind power generation facilities provide ideal grounds for a capacity built-up enabling the wind energy industry to be transferred. Based on sound economics and the creation of local jobs, the Sahara Wind project may help the wind industry spread more sustainably into the developing world.
The Spanish wind energy industry has indeed demonstrated that the transfer of manufacturing facilities from Germany and Denmark enabled significant cost reductions on domestically installed wind power capacities. Building upon such experience, the price of wind power generated in exceptionally good wind regions through dedicated machines, manufactured and erected locally at lower labor costs are bound to be more competitive.
The integration of wind energy in such an economical setting should cover the transfer of industrial capacities and improve sustainable development perspectives of the region. Furthermore, these would enhance local access to electricity services and provide overall economic benefits that are likely to contribute to the social stability of this rather desolate area. Within today's rather tumultuous regional context, the energy security of North Africa and its European northern neighbors would be thereby significantly reinforced.
Since wind turbines represent over 80% of the investments in the Sahara Wind Project (20% remaining for the HVDC line), the development of lower-cost dedicated wind turbines could have a considerable financial impact on the economics of the entire Project, improving its competitiveness. Several Projects of the size of Sahara Wind's are currently duplicated in China's Inner Mongolia region, or in the Middle Western parts of the United States. These are likely to set precedents enabling manufacturing of wind turbine parts and components to take place locally. Such level of project integration would certainly contribute to open the debate of addressing more sustainably the electrification needs found in most developing countries.